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Pakistan: Diplomacy vs Giving It All Away

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I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

How are we going to deal with Pakistan when they're openly flaunting their proxy war against the United States? How should we respond when they say stuff like "we know where the [Taliban] shadow government is"? Or this:

"We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us," said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. "We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians."

Again, "we protect the Taliban." Pakistan protects the Taliban. That's in addition to them training and equipping various Taliban militias and even funding suicide attacks and IEDs against American troops. We, as in you the American tax payer, give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, including directly reimbursing them for their army operations (down to paying for the bullets fired). And yet they're killing our troops and protecting insurgents/terrorists.

Our relationship with Pakistan is deeply, deeply flawed. How do we fix this?

Spencer Ackerman suggests diplomacy, and I wholeheartedly agree. The American people are howling at the gates of congress to end these trillion dollar, decade-long wars of occupation and aggression, and there is simply no conceivable military solution to any of our problems - whether that's Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or even Iran. Diplomacy has to be the way to go.

Ackerman helpfully gives us his "opening gambit," his desired/hypothetical US response to the Pakistani statement above about protecting the Taliban. Here's his complete "diplomacy" statement:

An envoy from the administration needs to say: We're on board with that sentiment 100 percent! Pakistan should under no circumstances be cut out of a deal. We're happy to see that you guys talk to Hamid Karzai's government now without the binding mechanism of our trilateral summitry. Believe us, we want you doing that, because it should convince you that Pakistan has an interlocutor in Karzai, not an obstacle to Pakistani interests in a post-conflict Afghanistan.

Look, we get it: you sponsor the Taliban because you want strategic depth on your eastern border. You can get that from Karzai; and we're here to help you get it! Pakistan can have a role in South Asia commensurate with the great power that it is!


And because we're so sincere about that, we want you involved in the peace talks in a very specific way. We want you to deliver the Taliban and the Haqqanis to the table, under whatever circumstances of amnesty work for you. Then we want you to guarantee that in a post-war Afghanistan, they're not backsliding on their commitments to backsliding on al-Qaeda. We're going to put that on you. Look at that: you get an important role in Afghanistan, and it allows us to bring the war to a steady conclusion on mutually-agreeable terms. You win, we win, Karzai wins, the Taliban... kind of win (yeah, we said it), our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda (and the Pak Taliban!) lose. Now who wants flood relief?


Oh, and in case we need to say it: if we start seeing al-Qaeda slipping back into the country, it's wrath-of-God time.

"We're on board 100 percent!" Boy, that should really scare the hell out of the Pakistanis. Ackerman, for whatever reason, seems to interpret "diplomacy" as "giving Pakistan everything it could possibly want." This is incorrect. In negotiations, you start with the extreme of what you want, and then negotiate down to something like a compromise. Ackerman has done exactly the opposite.

Let's take the statement line by line.

We're on board with that sentiment 100 percent! Pakistan should under no circumstances be cut out of a deal. We're happy to see that you guys talk to Hamid Karzai's government now without the binding mechanism of our trilateral summitry.

If I were Pakistan, I'd stop you right there. "You agree 100 percent? Good, then STFU and keep the money coming. Make the check out to General Kayani, that's K-A-Y..."

Look, we get it: you sponsor the Taliban because you want strategic depth on your eastern border. You can get that from Karzai; and we're here to help you get it! Pakistan can have a role in South Asia commensurate with the great power that it is!

So much wrong here. First of all, it's not enough to "get it" that Pakistan's national security policy is based on support for violent militias and terrorist organizations. The reason some of us have been shouting "strategic depth" from the rooftops is because it's illegal, de-stabilizing, and unimaginably dangerous both regionally and globally. It is not OK! We already "get" why they do it, we have to figure out a way to stop it. Again, the difference between diplomacy and giving everything away is very important here.

Next, Ackerman offers that Pakistan can get their strategic depth from Karzai, with America's help even. There's no other way to read that than as a blatant concession that the United States does not consider Afghanistan to be a sovereign country, but rather as an Imperial Colony of Pakistan and the United States ruled by a pliant puppet government (Karzai). Forget all that stuff about democratic elections, about standing up a stable, non-corrupt Afghan government, about creating a secure Afghanistan capable of protecting itself from terrorists. We were just kidding, we actually think Karzai is just our puppet and that Pakistan should be able to inflict as much violence and terrorism on Afghanistan as they want.

We'll skip over the part about Pakistan being a "great power," since it's one of the most corrupt, violent, unstable countries on Earth, as well as the premiere state of sponsor of terrorism in Central Asia (if not the entire globe). But then again, I guess if Ackerman believes that total capitulation = diplomacy, then sure, corrupt, terrorist-supporting tyrants = great power, why not. Words don't mean anything.

And because we're so sincere about that, we want you involved in the peace talks in a very specific way. We want you to deliver the Taliban and the Haqqanis to the table, under whatever circumstances of amnesty work for you. Then we want you to guarantee that in a post-war Afghanistan, they're not backsliding on their commitments to backsliding on al-Qaeda. We're going to put that on you.

Great, we want Pakistan involved in peace talks in whatever way works for them. That's already happening! Remember the New York Times article about how they're using Baradar's capture as leverage in the peace talks? It's the one right up top, y'know, the whole reason we're having this conversation? It's dumb enough to concede everything the Pakistanis want, but then it's even stupider to "offer" them things they already have to begin with.

And just how are they supposed to keep their guarantees on Al-Qa'eda? We've already conceded strategic depth, and their support of Al-Qa'eda affiliates is part of that, so what is this "backsliding" stuff we're talking about?

This is why you don't open negotiations with "sure, we agree with everything!" There are no guarantees or backsliding after you give them everything, that's what "100 percent" means. It means all of it. You can't say "OK, you can support terrorists, but make sure you don't support terrorists." You're speaking gibberish, man!

Look at that: you get an important role in Afghanistan, and it allows us to bring the war to a steady conclusion on mutually-agreeable terms. You win, we win, Karzai wins, the Taliban... kind of win (yeah, we said it), our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda (and the Pak Taliban!) lose.

Pakistan won when we opened with "we're on board 100 percent!" We "win" because...why? We got nothing, we just gave Pakistan everything it wanted, including what they already have now. Karzai wins because he gets to be a US and Pakistani puppet (Is that what he wants, or are we arbitrarily calling that a "win" for him?).

And Al-Qa'eda, how do they lose? Magic, I suppose. The Pakistani Taliban wasn't even mentioned, that just came out of nowhere (presumably we agree with them 100 percent also, and that's how they lose).

Who actually loses from all of this? The people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, of course, since they're left to either the "great powers" in Islamabad who support terrorism and militancy, or to our corrupt puppet Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But wait, Ackerman isn't done showing us how diplomacy works.

Now who wants flood relief?

Get it? We're conditioning our flood relief for the tens of millions of affected people in Pakistan entirely on our selfish foreign policy goals. Wow, you're a monster Spencer Ackerman. Do we not understand the difference between General Kayani and a displaced, starving child in a refugee camp? Sure, the floods are a national security issue for the United States, but they are not an opportunity to extract a price from the victims.

But really, what am I worried about? Even if we do condition our flood relief, as Ackerman recommends, he's conditioning it on nothing. He agrees 100 percent with the Pakistan Army and ISI supporting terrorists, so as long as they keep doing that, they get the flood relief.

Like I said, it's gibberish.

Oh, and in case we need to say it: if we start seeing al-Qaeda slipping back into the country, it's wrath-of-God time.

Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? Are we threatening Pakistan? If so, with what? Didn't we open this conversation by establishing that there is NO military solution? If all it takes to eradicate terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "wrath-of-God time," then by all means, do it now. Only it's bulls**t, it doesn't mean anything.

See, Pakistan's Army Chief, General Kayani, and the head of ISI, General Pasha, they're not starry-eyed national security bloggers who think that the words "wrath-of-God time" are impressive or intimidating. The people we're dealing with have their own army (bigger than ours), their own airplanes, their own special forces, and of course, their own terrorist and insurgent organizations. They're not afraid of us, or our hollow threats. If they were, they wouldn't be saying things in the newspaper like "we know where the shadow government is."

If we have a specific threat, then spit it out. Will we invade the tribal areas? Will we drone strike General Kayani? Carpet bomb Rawalpindi and Islamabad? What is it exactly that we mean by "wrath-of-God time"? This is, after all, a "great power," so what are you going to do about it?

All together, what do we have? Our "diplomacy" looks like giving Pakistan everything it wants, and then capping it off with threatening them. That's not really diplomacy, is it? It's the status quo and a military threat. Would it be over the top to just write FAIL?

So what are some real options for dealing with Pakistan? Here are a few suggestions, keeping in mind that you open negotiations with the most extreme options and then work backwards.
  • Call a peace summit with all relevant players, including representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Jammu & Kashmir, Russia, United States, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, China, and Iran
  • Cut off all military aid to Pakistan
  • Cut off all (non-disaster) civilian aid to Pakistan
  • Blacklist the Pakistan Army and intelligence services as terrorist organizations
  • United Nations or Unilateral economic sanctions against the top leadership of the Pakistani Army, the intelligence services, as well as ruling elites in the PPP political party
  • Call for new, internationally monitored and vetted elections in Pakistan - condition all (non-disaster) aid on the legitimacy of these elections
  • Economic and diplomatic support for Pakistani opposition groups, including grassroots (the Lawyers movement) and political parties (PML-N)
  • Publicly release/de-classify all US intelligence on Pakistan's support of terrorism - including wiretap audio, satellite imagery, etc
  • Publicly call for an end to the Pakistani occupation of Balochistan and Kashmir
  • Diplomatic and economic support, including recognition, of an autonomous Balochistan
  • Diplomatic and economic support, including recognition, of an Independent Kashmir
  • Dramatically increase civilian and military aid to India (Call it "Strategic Depth")
  • Offer India a (new) permanent seat on the United Nations security council
  • Allow India to utilize American military bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia for "training exercises"
  • Invite India to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, requiring some contribution of security forces
Crazy stuff, right? But it's not giving Pakistan whatever it wants, and it's not threatening military action against them either. Either they give up their support of terrorism and militancy, or we start talking about the options above.

Spencer wrote:

When people mouth the truism that There's No Military Solution To The Afghanistan War, they're both right and typically uncreative about thinking through what A Political Solution To The Afghanistan War looks like. I submit that the imagined diplomatic proposal above is an opening gambit.

I wouldn't say my options are as "creative" as Ackerman's suggestion to give Pakistan whatever it wants, but consider the options I listed above as my response to his "opening gambit." Your move, Spencer.

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